AGAREB, Tunisia (AFP) – Thousands of Tunisians went on strike and rallied Wednesday after a demonstrator died of tear gas inhalation during angry demonstrations over the reopening of a rubbish dump, as environmental crises mount in the North African country.
Abderrazek Lacheheb, 35, died early Tuesday in Agareb, in the Sfax region on the central coast, after security forces used tear gas to disperse protesters.
A medic and a family member said he had died of asphyxia, and the prosecution said it had opened an investigation.
The interior ministry said Lacheheb had died as a result of a pre-existing health condition.
On Wednesday, the city held a general strike and thousands of people marched the six kilometres (four miles) from the town to the landfill site, which served around a million people until it was closed in September under pressure from residents.
But authorities decided on Monday to reopen the site, sparking immediate protests.
On Wednesday, thousands walked through the town chanting: “We have a right to a dignified life! We have a right to clean air!”
Security forces once again deployed heavily and used tear gas to prevent them from reaching the site.
One protester told AFP the police had showed “contempt” for the town.
“In the last 24 hours we’ve seen security forces protecting trash and crushing citizens, crushing residents’ rights to life, a healthy environment and a dignified life,” he said.
Another said: “Close the landfill and we’ll go. Don’t close it and we’ll stay here a week, a month, a year, and fight until it closes.”
He said the dump had plagued the town with disease and foul smells for 14 years.
Both asked to remain anonymous.
The Agareb landfill, the main such site in the Sfax region including Tunisia’s second city of the same name, closed in September under pressure from residents.
Locals had complained it was full and that toxic chemical waste was being dumped at a facility only meant for household waste.
Wednesday’s march came after the powerful UGTT trade union confederation called for a general strike across the public and private sectors over what it called a “savage intervention by security forces” on Monday evening.
The wider Sfax region has been gripped by weeks of protests over the rubbish crisis, which has seen trash pile up in the streets.
Since the Agareb facility closed, municipalities have refused to gather waste, calling on the state to find sustainable solutions.
Tunisia has long suffered difficulties dealing with the estimated 2.5 million tonnes of rubbish produced every year, dumping the vast majority in landfills and recycling almost nothing.
© Agence France-Presse